CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A Southeast Texas man who wanted to marry his minor victim was sentenced Wednesday in the Southern District of Texas to 50 years in federal prison for producing child pornography.
This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Corpus Christi Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Stephen Scott Meals, 39, a resident of Corpus Christi, pleaded guilty to the charges on Feb. 20. He was further ordered to register as a sex offender and to serve the rest of his life on supervised release following completion of his prison term, during which time he will have to comply with numerous requirements designed to restrict his access to children and the internet.
At the hearing, the court heard how Meals groomed his victim over many years, gaining her trust and the trust of her family. He then initiated a sexual relationship with her while her family was displaced during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In November 2018, law enforcement learned of the sexual relationship he had with the 15-year-old female. When authorities identified her, she was wearing a promise ring Meals had given her and Meals later admitted he had hoped to marry her.
During the investigation, authorities seized Meals’ electronic devices. Forensic evaluation revealed several pornographic images of the child victim in a secure folder on his cell phone. Some of the images included the minor female in various stages of nudity that Meals has taken in order to memorialize the sexual assaults he had committed against her.
The investigation also led to the discovery of an additional child victim Meals had been sexually abusing. At the hearing today, the court heard testimony from a medical expert regarding the evidence of that abuse.
Meals has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brittany L. Jensen prosecuted the case.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE; TTY for hearing impaired: (802) 872-6196. This hotline is staffed around-the-clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or https://report.cybertip.org/.